Survival Fire-Making Techniques

Survival Fire-Making TechniquesFire is, to most folks, a ridiculously easy thing to come by in the modern era. There are dozens of lighters on every gas station counter, bowls of matchbooks at every bar and endless boxes of "strike anywhere" wonders for sale at every grocery store.

The largely forgotten skill of making fire without matches or lighters is a useful one for those of us who venture into the matchless hinterlands. It takes patience to get the hang of it, but--luckily--it's not as difficult as you might think.


Friction methods of fire-making, as you might imagine, produce flame when a fire-maker rubs two surfaces together to generate heat through the force of friction. The surfaces may be rotated together or rubbed against each other in a linear way.

Friction-based methods include the hand drill, bow and spindle, fire pump, fire plow, saw, and fire thong. Each of these is a unique art all its own, but there's a helpful collection of videos in the resources section that can help you to master the technique.


As the title implies, percussion methods produce flame when the fire-maker strikes two objects together. The method includes elements of both frictional heat and chemical firestarting, so it's important to strike together compatible objects.

In general, the objects struck together are flint and steel, ferrocerium rods, and fire pistons. (In Malaysia, neither flint nor steel are handy; instead, they sub out the flint for broken stoneware and the hard joint of a bamboo pole for the steel.)

When creating fire by striking two stones, the fire-maker uses a more angular stone in one hand (called the "striker") and a flatter, palm-width stone (called the "handstone") in the other. The striker must be of greater hardness than is the handstone for the system to work correctly.


If it's a sunny day and you have a pair of binoculars in your backpack (or, even better, a magnifying glass), you can make an optical fire.

Much as grammar-school pranksters use magnifying glasses to hassle ants on the schoolyard, optical fires are started by using a lens to carefully focus a beam of sunlight on a bit of tinder. Even the bottom of a glass bottle can work for this purpose--any clear object that changes the size of text when it is passed over a page.

To make an optical fire, the fire-maker holds the lens at an angle that focuses the sunlight into the smallest possible beam over the tinder. Continue to hold the lens in place as it begins to smoke, only setting down the lens once actual flame appears.

Article Written By Annette O'Neil

Annette O'Neil graduated from the University of Southern California with degrees in cinema, global communication and geology. A writer for more than a decade, O'Neil has written copy, content and editorial articles for hundreds of clients and publications, including Yoga Awakening Africa and Whole Life Times.

Don't Miss a Thing!

All our latest outdoor content delivered to your inbox once a week.



We promise to keep your email address safe and secure.